I could never have imagined the feeling of satisfaction I would get from teaching ESL to migrant students. My first day was looming up fast and as I had just about crawled over broken glass to convince my local training provider to give me the room and resources to run a 20 week ESL Employment class, it just had to work! I had every faith in my desire to empower women through education, but had I bitten off more that I could chew? I planned to run an accelerated literacy program using an empty fashion/sewing department room. Everything was there; machines, fabrics, patterns and my new curriculum. I had been working as a volunteer with a group of Sudanese women. We had done some screen printing workshops and now I was helping them to build a small business. These women had no desire to enter in to formal education, in fact they shunned the idea completely but they needed to improve their English language and gain some real vocational skills if they were to find employment and function properly in our community; there had to be a better way to get them back into education. What if I could get them to develop a range of clothes and homewares to sell at the local market or to local traders and at the same time overlay the workshops with ESL modules? Would it work? Plenty of traditional ESL teachers thought it was a waste of time. Now it was the start of Semester 2 and I had to put my money where my mouth was!
I planned the lessons, researched the employment needs and contacted the students to ensure they would all arrive for Day One. Twelve students from a range of backgrounds had expressed an interest in doing ESL Cert II Employment & Fashion. Their English language skills ranged from Beginner to Pre Intermediate and I had to somehow keep them all engaged while improving their English and facilitating them through 5 units of Applied Fashion & Design. One by one they sheepishly found their place in the classroom and my nerves were beginning to get the better of me; what was I thinking! Five Sudanese, two Bangladeshi, three Thai, one Cambodian and a Filipino all introduced themselves to the class and we started getting to know one another. Ten out of the twelve had never used a sewing machine before and the others had done a small amount of domestic sewing. This was going to be fun!
We are now halfway through the course and have lost only 2 of the students. One found it was not for her and went on to another English class and another left for family reasons. The ten remainding students are just the most determined group of women I have ever had the priveledge of meeting and working with. They have now worked their way through designing and cutting out their first drafts and are completing samples in calico before moving on to the finished products. This inaugral class is all making wrap-around skirts in readiness for our end of year "Fashion With Friends" parade. The English they are learning is in context with their learning goals and it makes it so much easier to teach when the students can use the language they are learning every day. We have an "English Only" rule that they have devised themselves for class; if you need to speak your first language then you must excuse yourself first and tell the class what you would like to explain in your first language. It is a very democratic and holistic class with all becoming firm friends. Muslims, Catholics, Budhists and a committed atheist all sharing secret women's business two days a week. The end of Ramadan was a feast to behold with the two Bangladeshi and two of the Sudanese all bringing traditional food and sharing with the class. Chicken Biryani and rice pudding, yum! We are the United Nations of Sewing.
I was recently awarded with a Blue Stockings Scholarship for Empowering Women through Education. This scholarship has enabled me to fund some of the students tuition and materials. It was so exciting to stand before my peers at the recent awards night and talk about my class. I am very proud of the women in my class and just a little bit proud of me too. Onward and upward and fingers crossed for 2011. I have one full class already for Sewing B and enrolments open for a beginners class so that we can start all over again with a new bunch of women. If you would like any information on this class please dont hesitate to contact me.